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Commentary: Time to revisit short-term rentals 

Hospitality workers, musicians and artists deserve to have a place to live in their own city

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Photo by Kevin Allman

Are short-term rentals (STRs) like Airbnb making it harder for New Orleanians to live in the city where they work? The STR industry says it's just the opposite. By renting out a spare bedroom or half a double, the argument goes, more rather than fewer locals can live affordably here. That argument suffered a serious blow earlier this month when Airbnb's updated website easily showed who are the city's biggest Airbnb landlords.

  The largest local Airbnb operator — with 154 rental units scattered all over town — is a Spokane, Washington-based company called Stay Alfred, which has thousands of units in various cities across the country. Another out-of-town company, Sonder, controls 124 units in New Orleans. These aren't mom-and-pop landlords; they're hoteliers posing as small-time operators.

  Breonne DeDecker of the housing rights organization Jane Place Neighborhood Sustainability Initiative told WVUE-TV that the top 10 Airbnb landlords in the city control a total of 568 units — apartments and condos that otherwise could be occupied by full-time New Orleanians. In the Faubourg Marigny, a neighborhood once filled with service industry personnel and others who worked nearby in the French Quarter, one in 10 units now is a short-term rental, according to a story published last year by The Huffington Post and The Lens.

  Hospitality workers, musicians and artists who cater to New Orleans' millions of visitors each year deserve to have a place to live in their own city. Their needs should be prioritized over absentee landlords who control scores of units in (formerly) residential neighborhoods.

  Mayor-elect LaToya Cantrell has said she'd be willing to look at a new "soft cap" on short-term rental licenses in some of New Orleans' commercial corridors. It would be the first revisit of the city's STR laws since they were ratified last year by the City Council, whose members still include Cantrell. When the council approved STRs, District A Councilwoman Susan Guidry had proposed tying licenses to homestead exemptions precisely to guard against abuse by out-of-town speculators. A year into New Orleans' STR experiment, it's clear Guidry was right, and at a council meeting last week, District D Councilman Jared Brossett (who voted against legalizing STRs last year) once again called for a homestead exemption requirement. Perhaps learning from our mistakes, Jefferson Parish recently banned all STRs in residential and industrial districts, restricting them to mixed-use and commercial areas.

  On April 16, Guidry and incoming Councilman Joe Giarrusso III will hold a town hall for their constituents to hear stories and gather information about STRs in their district. (The location of the town hall was not determined as of press time.) That's welcome news, particularly for Mid-City, another hotbed of STR speculation. Other district council members — current and incoming — would do well to follow Guidry and Giarrusso's example.

  Last week, the council tasked the City Planning Commission to study the impact of current laws — and the incoming council (which comes into office in May) appears far less bullish about New Orleans' current STR ordinance than the current council. As rental prices continue to rise (they went up 6.3 percent from January to July last year), it's time for councilmembers to put their constituents' ability to live and thrive in New Orleans before the needs of out-of-town rental agencies that are effectively taking local homes off the market.

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